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Ratty Returns! A Shed load of voles

Posted: Tuesday 27th June 2017 by Graham Holyoak

320 water voles are returned to Kielder Water & Forest Park after the best part of 30 years!

The Great Release!

Volunteers and staff from the Restoring Ratty team are recovering from a momentous occasion. During the second week of June, we re-introduced 325 water voles back into Kielder Water & Forest Park!

We can’t tell you how grateful we are to our volunteers, some of whom were out every single day of the release and are now enjoying a well-earned rest.

The voles arrived on Sunday evening in their cages, and we literally had a ‘shed load’ of voles. Seeing the voles in their cages ready for release made the reality of our project sink in; we have been talking about and planning this event for so long and now there is the chance of seeing voles in the wild in Kielder once more.

Monday 12th June was our busiest day as 68 release pens were deployed. Voles were put in the release pens in family groups of 5 or 6, or breeding pairs. The release pens were filled with straw, and the voles were put in them with a piece of apple and half a carrot each. The pens were carefully taken to site and placed by the water’s edge. In pens containing family groups, the voles were fed daily and on day 3, the pens were opened and baffle plates attached to enable the voles to come and go, but to prevent large predators from entering. On day 5 the entire pen was removed and the voles were no longer fed. This routine was the same for voles that were released in pairs, but they were in the release pens for 5 days before the baffle plates went on, and it was 7 days before the pens were removed, in the hope that Mrs vole would enter the big wide world already pregnant with the first Kielder water voles to be born in the wild in 30 years.

The pens were sited in heavily vegetated areas giving the voles plenty of cover to hide in whilst they make a start on constructing their burrows. This technique of releasing water voles is called a ‘soft release’. In total, 91 release pens were de-ployed, some over extremely rough terrain, where care was needed to prevent injuries.

On day 1 of the release 200 voles were placed in pens, on day 2 a further 100 voles were put out in their pens and on day 3 some voles were hard released (released straight from their cages into the water) to give the press an opportunity to see them swimming freely; our much valued volunteers were also offered the opportunity to hard release a vole.

As well as the main event, we also offered local residents the chance to come and visit the depot in which the water voles were stored to see the voles before they were released, 30 folk joined us for this. Later in the week, Derek Gow kindly gave a fascinating talk entitled ‘Re-storing Ratty to the Riverbank’ to an audience of 55 people. We also took pupils from Kield-er First School out to a release site and they helped us feed the voles, put baffle plates on and they also had the chance to hard release a water vole.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! It was an emotional week! Thanks go to Forestry Com-mission for their help with storage sheds, vehicles and site knowledge, thanks go to our vol-unteers and staff from Northumberland Wildlife Trust, and a big thank you to Coral, Rebecca and Derek from Derek Gow Consultancy who travelled up from Devon with the water voles that they had painstakingly bred for our project, and who gave us the opportunity to handle the water voles and shared their vast knowledge and experience with us all.

We’re very proud and look forward to doing it all over again in August!

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